By Philip Haldiman and Matt Roy
You may live in the West Valley; but there’s a good chance you don’t work there.
However, some groups in the region are hoping to make the West Valley a place where residents not only live but also work.
Sintra Hoffman, Westmarc president and CEO, said nearly 70 percent of the workforce living in the West Valley travels east for work every day.
Another statistic about the West Valley stands out — over the next 25 years, 49.5 percent of the growth in Maricopa County will occur in the West Valley, according to Maricopa Association of Governments officials.
Westmarc — or Western Maricopa Coalition — a public-private partnership of more than 10 West Valley communities, businesses and educational organizations, is leading initiatives to spur economic development and bring more high-paying jobs to the area.
Ms. Hoffman said the Westmarc membership, including Surprise and Peoria, looked at those stats and recognized that building a pipeline of talented workers is critical to the economic success of the West Valley region and the quality of life for its residents.
Dozens of stakeholders came together in the process to create the West Valley Workforce Development Strategy, a business attraction tool that will be used over the next five years to see that the region keeps talent from working elsewhere and attracts advanced industries.
Ms. Hoffman said a robust and skilled labor force is one of the most important assets in attracting, retaining and expanding businesses, and that these businesses in turn create jobs, pay taxes, stimulate investment and wealth in the region.
“Workforce availability is the first item on a company or site selector’s list when choosing a new location. So the ultimate goal is to market the talents and education partners, and attract new jobs to the West Valley,” she said. “As we grow jobs in targeted industries through the use of this new demographic and workforce information, we will see the success of this plan and accomplish that goal.”
The plan will serve as the guiding document in building a skilled workforce, moving the region forward in a competitive fashion, attracting new businesses and creating employment opportunities for residents, she said.
Implementation began with the creation of a marketing committee consisting of public, private and education communications professionals.
“If you live and work here, you know that the West Valley has the talent, buying power and quality of life that we all seek,” Ms. Hoffman said. “However, if you’re not an insider to this knowledge, you may still have outdated perceptions. One consistent message by all will begin to change the paradigm.”
Mike Hoover is Westmarc economic development co-chair and serves as the group’s community partner liaison for Surprise, where he serves as the city’s economic development coordinator. He praised the effort, which he said is grounded in best practices.
“The best models clearly identify the industry targets and have specific deliverables at various stages of the plan,” Mr. Hoover stated in an email. “The West Valley Pipeline is built on some of the best models and added a key feature of collaboration at the greater region and state levels. If the West Valley is telling an important workforce story to industry, it builds from the local community all the way up to the state.”
He said by collaborating closely through Westmarc, West Valley communities can focus on improving long-term economic opportunity in the region, rather than working against each other for short-term gain.
“The West Valley Pipeline is a plan that helps each community communicate the region’s strength with one voice in workforce. Industry builds its facilities in a specific city/community, but they draw their workforce across multiple jurisdictions,” Mr. Hoover stated.
Another key to success will be continuing partnerships with area educational institutions to ensure top employers have qualified work force to drawn from in the West Valley, according to Mr. Hoover.
“The Westmarc Education Committee will be championing education partnerships in the West Valley. The key component will be communication of the types of skills industry is requiring with education partners for program development,” Mr. Hoover stated.
In Peoria, city officials have already been working to attract advanced industries through the council-approved Economic Development Implementation Strategy II, a guide that also includes the strategy of utilizing strong partnerships with other cities.
City staff has been actively marketing a wide range of commercial and industrial parcels as well as existing buildings and redevelopment opportunities throughout Peoria.
Spokesman Tim Eiden said in partnering with the Westmarc-led West Valley Workforce Development Strategy, Peoria is at the table with educational partners, workforce agencies, employers and neighboring cities.
He said site selectors and companies want to come to Peoria because of its deep talent pool, and the workforce development plan helps Peoria in attracting businesses by providing an in-depth analysis of the current regional workforce and creating a clear path for strengthening the availability of skilled workers in the future.
“Peoria employers pull from a regional talent pool, and prospective companies that we would locate to the city through our economic development efforts need to draw from this pool as well. Therefore, Peoria recognizes that creating a strategy to develop talent in the workforce is a regional effort,” Mr. Eiden said.
A benefit to all
In developing the West Valley plan, Westmarc officials looked to the Phoenix Forward economic development initiative, created by the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, to grow and expand the targeted industries of bioscience, health care, as well as transportation and logistics.
Guy Erickson, Peoria Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said the regional approach to attracting businesses to the area is smart because every community can benefit.
He said the plan is ambitious and the biggest obstacle could be overcoming the perception that somehow the West Valley isn’t as attractive to employers as Scottsdale or the East Valley. But, he said, they don’t realize the pool of talent in the West Valley.
“(The plan) is a great idea. If the cities continue to work together, that benefits everybody,” he said. “If Peoria lands a large employer, I would obviously want the employees to live in Peoria. But if they live in Glendale or Tolleson or Avondale, then everybody still benefits. Instead of an hour-long drive, you might have to drive only 20 minutes to work. And that means more time to spend with your family and to do anything else you’d like to do.”
Maricopa County is the fourth most populated county in the country and the average annual income is $64,634 in the West Vally, according to MAG officials.
Ms. Hoffman said other regions implemented similar plans but the West Valley plan is unique and innovative in that no other region is this big — 3,000 square miles — made up of various communities with their own governments, businesses, educational institutions and utilities, has worked together to attract a workforce for such a large and diverse area.
“While there are definitely best practices out there, the diverse composition of the West Valley makes this plan unique,” she said. “Additionally, while many regions are trying to grow their workforce, and we are too, we have a very strong base of talented residents who already live here but are commuting east for work. So our task revolved more around messaging who the West Valley is today as well as using our strong education opportunities to grow the future.”
The West Valley has a strong information technology workforce, with a high concentration of workers in computer network, security analysts, training and development specialists, and operations research analysts, according to a study conducted for the West Valley Workforce Development Strategy.
It was developed using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and EMSI, a labor-market research firm.
The study also found the region has an above average concentration of aerospace engineers, avionics technicians and aircraft mechanics.
“This was most eye-opening because we assumed we would have to grow that workforce to be competitive in the aerospace industry,” Ms. Hoffman said. “But having received this information, it does in fact make sense because Lockheed Martin, Honeywell and Luke Air Force Base are in our backyard. Additionally, more than 450 military personnel retire or end their commitment from Luke Air Force Base each year. This is a tremendous asset for the West Valley.”
West Valley workforce
What: The West Valley Workforce Development Strategy is a plan to attract advanced industries and a talented workforce to the West Valley over the next five years. The plan is backed by more than 10 communities and their mayors.
Data contribution: Arizona State University, Maricopa Association of Governments and EMSI contributed data to the study, including over the next 25 years, 49.5 percent of the growth in Maricopa County will occur in the West Valley. Data includes information on specific occupations within targeted industries, among other data.
Communities: Avondale, Buckeye, El Mirage, Glendale, Goodyear, Litchfield Park, Peoria, Phoenix, Surprise, Tolleson, Gila Bend, Wickenburg
Other stakeholders: APS, Arizona@Work, Aviage Systems, Greater Maricopa Foreign Trade Zone, Maricopa County Community College District, Salt River Project
Implementation: The plan will span five years, through 2023 with nine key strategies to be tackled. Three of those strategies will focus on building a consistent message platform and collaborative business outreach plan for all West Valley stakeholders to use in unison. Implementation has begun with the creation of a marketing committee consisting of public, private and education communications professionals.
Future plans: From 2019 to 2023, strategies will focus on education connections with the business community to ensure that education programs match needed job skills. Strategies include supporting STEM, integrating soft skills in K-12, re-branding CTE (Career Technical Education) and creating career pathways in high-demand occupations.